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<< Return to SBL Forum Archive A Case for Domestic Abuse in 1 Kings 14? A Look at the Marriage of Jeroboam I

Robin Gallaher Branch 

The Bible introduces the wife of Jeroboam within the context of the account of Jeroboam, the first king of Israel in the Divided Kingdom (1 Kgs 11:26-14:20). Jeroboam reigned for twenty-two years, 930-909 B.C.E.[1]Although hers is but a cameo appearance on the biblical stage, it receives considerable textual space (1 Kgs14:1-18). A family crisis introduces her. Jeroboam’s son Abijah (presumably by this woman) is sick and near death. Jeroboam commands his wife to go—disguised—to the prophet Ahijah to discover the lad’s fate. Obedient, she goes. In addition to learning Abijah will die, she receives a startling prophetic word of household and national devastations. Acting as a conduit between king and prophet, she remains unnamed, silent, mysterious.

This article argues that the marriage of Jeroboam and his wife shows “a family likeness” to abuse.[2] Granted, the verses about her reveal no physical beating. Nonetheless, the text provides strong hints that she is an abused wife and that Jeroboam is her abuser. If that is indeed the case, then the judgment of evil (1 Kgs 14:9) against Jeroboam and the later pairing of sins and evil in connection with his name as the evaluative standard for the kings of Israel[3] enlarge the definition of evil to include an indictment against wife abuse.

As part of the law governing the covenant community, all persons in Israel were to be treated well; the Ten Commandments mandate good treatment—from the intimate relationship of marriage to public relationships in the marketplace (Exod 20:1-17). If a man took a second wife, he was not to deprive the first of “her food, clothing, and marital rights” (Exod 21:10). Women in Israel were not to be abused.[4]

Hints that the wife of Jeroboam experienced abuse includes the following:

  • Her isolation.
  • Her passivity.
  • Her instant obedience.
  • Her coming back.
  • Her lack of response to Jeroboam and Ahijah.

The possibility that her personality changed throughout her marriage from something that complemented that of her husband, a leader of men and a man of standing (1 Kgs 11:26-28), to something quite colorless.

Hints that Jeroboam is an abuser includes the following:

  • His command-mode manner when addressing his wife.
  • His lack of compassion toward her over the illness of their son.
  • His control over her comings and goings.
  • His insecurity about seeking Ahijah himself.
  • His cowardice.[5]
  • His violence toward the man of God, 1 Kgs 13.[6]
  • His choice of evil.
  • His emotional control over his wife.
  • His character change from being a gibbor hayil, “a substantial hero”[7] (1 Kgs 11:28), to doing “more evil than all who lived before” (1 Kgs 14:9).

Jeroboam: Possibly an Abusing Husband 

In one of the biblical text’s most startling downward spirals, Jeroboam falls from being described as a gibbor hayil to becoming within his lifetime the standard for evil and sin (1 Kgs 14:9). The biblical text chronicles his downfall. Additionally, Jeroboam also fits the pattern (for lack of a better word) of an abuser.

Traits of an abuser include low self-esteem, a belief in male superiority, the tendency to blame others, a pathological jealousy, a dual personality, severe stress reactions, the frequent use of sex as an aggressive act, and a refusal to believe that his actions may have negative consequences.[8] An abusive man is possessive of his wife’s time; he is jealous. He stalks her, eavesdrops, puts her under surveillance, and monitors her activities. The abuser typically blames the woman because he feels a loss of control.

The biblical text substantiates that Jeroboam portrays a number of abusive characteristics. He monitors and directs his wife’s activities. His reaction to the man of God’s decree against him (1Kgs 13) is anger and severe stress over his withered hand. He refuses to believe his action of setting up golden calves at Dan and Bethel will have severe consequences.[9] He expresses no repentance or remorse although given opportunities.[10] He sends his wife on a potentially dangerous errand alone and without protection.

Studies show that men with a low level of self-control over their actions and those evidencing strong anti-social behavior (the technical term is psychopathy) tend not to care about the suffering they cause others.[11]Abuse typically happens amid complex situations; in these conditions, abusers manipulatively use the children of their partners or ex-partners to play on fear and to continue the abuse.[12] The child Abijah and his grave illness spark the encounter between Jeroboam and his wife. Of course she’ll go!

The Marriage of the Royals 

Society looked on Jeroboam and his wife as married, but their marriage ended much earlier.[13] The small vignette recording their encounter abounds with evidence that their marriage is over. They have no personal relationship. Jeroboam treats his wife with abruptness, indicating he views her as one who lives to meet his needs. Jeroboam takes no responsibility in the marriage. In the command mode, he portrays no tenderness, no respect, and clearly no love toward her. The wife of Jeroboam exudes lifelessness and certainly lacks self-confidence. Her passivity makes her seem emotionally dead inside. Unlike other women in Kings with both good and bad textual assessments—the widow of Zarephath, Jezebel, Athaliah, and Jeosheba[14]—the wife of Jeroboam exudes no self-confidence.

In any marriage, the partners assume roles that if not comfortable are at least habitual. In the marriage of the king of Israel and his wife, Jeroboam acts as the decider, the one who orders others around, the commander. Often a woman living in an abusive, dysfunctional situation becomes an enabler. She functions as the heroic martyr, concealer, comforter, placater, rescuer, persecutor, victim.[15] The wife of Jeroboam certainly is a concealer and resigned enabler of her husband’s whims.

Why She Goes Back/Why She Stays 

After hearing Ahijah’s prophesy, why does the wife of Jeroboam return home? If an abused wife, why does she stay? Excellent questions these.

When the wife of Jeroboam returns home, she sets in motion a chain of events leading to the death of her son, the extinction of the house of Jeroboam, and the uprooting of Israel. Modern research finds that an abused woman who returns home most often has been married for a long time; she is not a newlywed.

The primary reason an abused woman stays in an abusive relationship is fear[16] —fear of a husband and fear of the future. According to modern research, the long-term effect of the repeated and unpredictable situations of terror to which abused women are subject is that they become afraid of staying in their marriages—and yet fear leaving.[17] Regarding the wife of Jeroboam, where could she go? Who would take her in? The arm of the king extended throughout the kingdom. Quite likely she does not know what to do because she doesn’t know if her actions will bring her what she longs for most: safety.[18]

Fear involves extensive loss. An abused woman fears the loss of her family, reputation, status, children, home, income. An abused woman faces the cultural pressure and economic necessity of staying put. Modern research finds that women of higher socioeconomic status turn inward when encountering spousal aggression.[19] Arguably, the silence of the wife of Jeroboam is not because she is stupid, but because she has turned inward. She seeks safety from a frightening exterior world by retreating to a quiet place inside where at least she controls the silence.

Perhaps, the wife of Jeroboam returns because she’s familiar with the abuse cycle (tension build-up, anger, rage, explosion, honeymoon period, tension build-up, anger, rage, explosion, etc.).[20] She knows Jeroboam’s habits and calculates that the “timing” favors a somewhat peaceful period. The wife of Jeroboam clearly acts in a passive, non-provoking way.[21]

Significantly, the biblical text gives no information about the isolated wife of Jeroboam—her name, father’s name, town, or tribal affiliation.[22] She bears no external identity or links to anyone besides Jeroboam and Abijah.

Wife of Jeroboam: Possibly an Abused Woman 

The biblical text shows that the wife of Jeroboam (like a modern woman in an abusive situation) has adopted a strategy for coping with abnormal and frightening experiences.[23] It involves silence, denial, passivity, instant obedience, isolation, and minimalizing herself.[24] Denial and minimalization enable an abused woman to live with what is happening and to avoid feelings of terror and humiliation. Modern research makes this important observation: battered women may suffer a range of psychosocial problems not because they are sick but because they are battered.[25]

Her silence may indicate a pattern in her marriage of being blamed for everything. She may be reasoning that if she says nothing, maybe Jeroboam won’t rail at her. Research finds that the abuser blames the woman because he feels a loss of control.[26]

Although the wife of Jeroboam arguably sees few alternatives to her possibly loveless and abusive situation, she is a survivor. It’s important to give abused women credit. Victims of domestic violence are survivors. Many find various ways to contain the abuse until they can leave the relationship. Their coping strategies enable them to put their feelings on hold and deal with the day-to-day challenges of living in a violent and dangerous atmosphere. They don survival strategies like learned helplessness. The abused woman dissociates, self-hypnotizes, and distances herself (emotionally at least) from her situation.[27]  

Conclusion 

Why is the wife of Jeroboam silent, ultra-obedient and seemingly lifeless? I do not believe she was colorless and lifeless as a young girl; I believe she became that way in response to her life in her marriage. Jeroboam, described as a man of standing, a gibbor hayil, would have married a woman of like character and disposition. He would not have married a simpleton—a bimbo, to use a modern word.[28]

I believe Jeroboam’s wife mirrors the downward spiral of his character (from a gibbor hayil to the standard of evil for generations). Why is she speechless, passionless? Why does she go back? I believe that her portrayal in these verses is consistent with one kind of reaction to abuse. Sadly, the marriage of Jeroboam and his wife shows “a family likeness” to abuse.

The wife of Jeroboam avoids confrontation. She tries to please, does exactly what Jeroboam says, and downplays herself. Her silence can be a retreat into an inner, protected sanctum. She presents a portrait of a woman without vibrance—and that kind of woman would not initially have attracted a man like Jeroboam, a leader of Solomon’s builders and a man to whom God gave ten tribes (1 Kgs 11). I believe that her personality, as seen in this last episode of the Jeroboam cycle, has been formed by her husband’s treatment of her over many years of marriage.

Yet the biblical text regards the wife of Jeroboam as extremely important because of the prophecy she receives. God reveals his plan to uproot and scatter Israel first to this unnamed woman. Her return home triggers events leading to her son’s death, the destruction of her household, and the uprooting of Israel. Obedient, mysterious, and mute, she figures prominently in Israel’s history because of the significance of the prophetic word given to her. If indeed she is abused, God’s judgment against Jeroboam (14:9-11) significantly expands the concept and definition of evil past idolatry to include abuse. Her society cannot or does not hold Jeroboam accountable—but God does.[29] Thus the text—and God—accord the wife of Jeroboam more dignity and relevance than do her husband, her society, and traditional scholars.

Robin Gallaher Branch, Crichton College

Notes

[1] This article represents a shortened version of a paper presented at SBL in Boston in 2008. A longer version is under peer review. My forthcoming book, Jeroboam’s Wife: The Enduring Contributions of the Old Testament’s Least Known Women (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 2009), includes some insights from this article.

[2] I am indebted to Jeremy Baker, MD, of Christchurch, New Zealand, for this insight.

[3] See 2 Kgs 13:2; 13:11; 14:24; 15:9.

[4] See David Instone-Brewer, “What God Has Joined.” Christianity Today (October 2007): 26-29.

[5] Paul R. House (1, 2 Kings [Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995], 191) writes that Jeroboam fears to reveal who needs the prophet’s advice.

[6] To Choon-Leong Seow, ch. 13 illustrates Jeroboam’s disobedience to the Lord’s word regarding idols and predicts the consequences of his disobedience (“The First and Second Books of Kings,” New Interpreter’s Bible: A Commentary in Twelve Volumes. Volume III, Leander Keck, convener [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1999], 105).

[7] Ibid., 94. Significantly, the phrase is used of David (1 Sam 16:18).

[8] Margi Laird McCue, Domestic Violence: A Reference Book (Santa Barbara: ABC-CLIO, 1995), 108-9.

[9] God denounced Jeroboam’s brand of religion via the man of God in ch. 13. However, Jeroboam’s religion had such a negative impact on both Israel and Judah that it contributed enormously to both countries’ demise (see House, 1, 2 Kings, 188, 192-93).

[10] These opportunities include his encounter with the man of God (1 Kgs 13) and hearing the prophetic word from Ahijah delivered by his wife upon her return (1 Kgs 14:17). One would think that his son’s death would humble him and bring him to repentance as it did David (2 Sam 12:15-25), but it does not. One would think that the judgment against his house and Israel would bring him to repentance as it did Ahab years later (2 Kgs 21:25-28), but it does not.

[11] Eli J. Finkel, “Impelling and Inhibiting Forces in the Perpetration of Intimate Partner Violence,” Review of General Psychology 11 [June 2007]: 193-207.

[12] http://csaweb115v.csa.com/ids70/display_fulltext_html.php?SID=mmva9a4lpc6miq2v996vpnfve5&db=psycarticles%2Dset%2Dc&an=2007%2D08858%2D009&f1=1089%2D2680%2C11%2C2%2C193%2C2007&key=GPR%2F11%2Fgpr%5F11%5F2%5F193&is=1089%2D2680&jv=11&ji=2&jp=193%2D207&sp=193&ep=207&year=2007&mon=06&day=1089%2D2680%2C11%2C2%2C193%2C2007. Cited 8 Nov. 2008.

[13] Marisa L. Beeble, Deborah Bybee, & Cris M. Sullivan, “Abusive Men’s Use of Children to Control their Partners and Ex-Partners.” European Psychologist 2007 12: 54-61.

http://csaweb115v.csa.com/ids70/display_fulltext_html.php?SID=mmva9a4lpc6miq2v996vpnfve5&db=psycarticles%2Dset%2Dc&an=2007%2D04213%2D007&f1=1016%2D9040%2C12%2C1%2C54%2C2007&key=EPP%2F12%2Fepp%5F12%5F1%5F54&is=1016%2D9040&jv=12&ji=1&jp=54%2D61&sp=54&ep=61&year=2007&mon=00&day=1016%2D9040%2C12%2C1%2C54%2C2007. Cited 8 Nov. 2008.

[14] See Charles L. Allen, When a Marriage Ends (Old Tappan, N. J.: Fleming H. Revell, 1986), 15.

[15] See 1 Kgs 17, 19 and 2 Kgs 11.

[16] See Robert Hemfelt, Frank Minirth, and Paul Meier, Love is a Choice: Recovery for Codependent Relationships (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1989), 159-62.

[17] See McCue, Domestic Violence, 113-14.

[18] See James Alsdurf and Phyllis Alsdurf, Battered into Submission: The Tragedy of Wife Abuse in the Christian Home (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1989), 74.

[19] See Barbara Wexler, Violent Relationships: Battering and Abuse Among Adults (Detroit: Thomson Gale, 2003), 46.

[20] See ibid., 48, 49.

[21] Constantly on guard, women living in abuse become so insecure that they further isolate themselves (ibid., 47).

[22] Perhaps, the wife of Jeroboam is passive for valid reasons. Repeated abuse diminishes a woman’s motivation to respond. Second, her cognitive ability to perceive success changes. She does not believe her response will result in a favorable outcome. Third, she feels helpless. Fourth, her sense of emotional wellbeing becomes precarious (see Alsdurf and Alsdurf, Battered into Submission, 73-74).

[22] The biblical text names the mothers of Rehoboam and Abijah, kings of Judah (1 Kgs 14:21; 15:1-2). The text about Nadab, Jeroboam’s successor, contains no mention of Nadab’s mother (1 Kgs 15:25).

[24] Wexler, Violent Relationships, 46.

[25] Her coping skills include anger, shock, nightmares, and dissociation (McCue, Domestic Violence, 100).

[26] Ibid., 100.

[27] Ibid., 109.

[28] Donald G. Dutton, The Abusive Personality: Violence and Control in Intimate Relationships (New York: Guilford, 1998), 42.

[28] There is ample textual evidence that like marries like. Consider these marriages: Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 3); Jezebel and Ahab (1 Kgs 21); Abigail and David (1 Sam 25); the Prov 31 woman and her husband; and Naaman and his wife (2 Kgs 5).

[29] See Linda H. Hollies, Sister, Save Yourself! (Cleveland: Pilgrim, 2006), 80.

 
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